As soon as I moved to San Francisco, Joshua Tree National Park shot to the top of my list of places I had to visit! Have you seen the pictures? Joshua Tree is home of some stunning, minimal, Dr. Seuss-like landscapes with the prettiest pale desert color palette. All right, now that I’ve nerded out about the Instagram ops, let’s get to planning your trip!! You are going to absolutely love Joshua Tree.
A Quick Note on Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
For starters I definitely recommend staying in a vintage trailer or airstream outside the park, near the towns of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms. Both of these towns are on the north side of the park.
When I was looking on Airbnb, I noticed Indio/Coachella to the south of the park. But the south entrance, Cottonwood Spring, isn’t as close to all the good stuff. I highly recommend staying close to the west entrance, near the town of Joshua Tree, or the north entrance, in Twentynine Palms. You can take a look at where these three entrances are on this map.
During my trip in January, we stayed in this Airbnb and it was perfect for us (and our first Instagram op!). Katie, the host, has two trailers on her property along with horses, goats, chickens, and a few Joshua trees! We had so much fun taking long exposures of the stars above her property each night. If its your first time using Airbnb, you can use my link for a $40 credit.
What to See Inside Joshua Tree National Park
Inside Joshua Tree National Park is where the real Instagram magic happens. There are so many gorgeous spots you are going to want to pull off to the side of the road constantly. And you should! But to keep you going in the right direction here are four of the most gorgeous and well-known spots to pin on your map and guide your way.
Cholla Cactus Garden
In the park, we started by driving over to the cholla cactus garden. It’s a great introduction to the park because along the way you pass tons of Joshua trees, other worldly rock formations, and get a stunning view of the valley to the south.
On the way back to the main road we pulled off at the White Tank campground and walked over to Arch Rock. This was definitely my favorite spot in the whole park. So photogenic. After wandering around the rock formations for awhile, we settled into some of the picnic tables by the campground for lunch.
After Arch rock, head back to the main road. Park near Skull Rock then walk the trail to Jumbo Rocks. Skull Rock was super busy when we arrived so it was pretty tough to get a good shot. I found a funky angle near the road that positioned the brush to block most of the people and got my one shot. Then we wandered off along the path towards Jumbo Rocks. It’s not a long hike, but it’s filled with fun rock formations, perfect for climbing. Don’t stick to the path, but stay close to your friends and climb carefully. When you find a spot you like, settle in and absorb the view!
Just before sunset, drive up to Keys View, a view point with a parking lot right next to it. While the lot can get a little backed up, we had no issues finding a spot before sunset two days in a row. From the lot you’ll walk up a little hill and get treated to panoramic views of Palm Springs and the valley below. You can even see the Salton Sea in the distance! A bunch of people tend to mill around at the top of the path, but if you wander just a little ways down from the path you’ll be able to get unobstructed views for the perfect Instagram photo.
Natural Sisters Cafe
For food I loved natural sisters cafe for black bean burger, sort of liked pie for the people, frontier is a cafe with good avocado toast and board games
Tips for Getting Great Instagram Photos in Joshua Tree
Before heading to a new destination, I like to do a little bit of planning, search the location tags on Instagram to find my favorite photos of the place and bookmark them.
I also like to make a Pinterest board dedicated to the destination where I pin some great guides and photo ops. You can actually copy the URL of an Instagram post, then open the Pinterest app, and guess what… Pinterest will automatically generate a pin of that post for you! I save all of my favorite Instagram posts this way and pin them to a board for that destination. This board becomes my shot list.
Joshua Tree National Park is particularly amazing for wide open road shots, just make sure you park your care somewhere safe and get this shot on a side road with less traffic. I think I got this shot in about seven different spots around the park lol!
Also, I swear I actually hiked and wore yoga pants, but I just didn’t like the way that outfit was photographing, so I popped the trunk, rummaged through my suitcase (yes I brought it for wardrobe changes haha) and threw on this dress instead. All of a sudden the photos were 10x better!
I absolutely loved capturing the different color palettes of the desert throughout the day. Sunrise offered pastel candy-colored goodness, while the morning sun created soft blue and warm gold-hued images. The afternoon provided a more vintage tone in my photos and the sunset painted everything in cool purples and blues. Don’t forget about long exposures at night! I’m not too experienced shooting them but it was so fun to set up the tripod and try to capture the insane amount of stars up in the sky.
Take time to wander. Some of my favorite shots, were off the beaten path. They may not have a famous view in the background, but they really capture the feeling of exploring Joshua Tree. The landscape is other worldly and so unique.
Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park? What were your favorite Instagram spots? Planning a trip? Let me know if you have any questions!